Christopher Durang’s Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike has arrived at International City Theatre, the delectable 2013 Best Play Tony winner proving one of early summer’s yummiest treats.

Despite a title evocative of at least two Chekhovian classics, even those who don’t know their Cherry Orchard from Cherries Jubilee will find themselves taken by 57-year-old gay fuddyduddy Vanya (Stephen Rockwell), his frumpy adopted 52-year-old sister Sonia (Jennifer Parsons), and the twosome’s “ageless” movie star sis Masha (Leslie Stevens), whose box office grosses have kept the long-bickering older siblings comfortably ensconced in an aging Bucks County country house kept spic-and-span by sassy soothsaying cleaning lady Cassandra (Murielle Zucker).

Vanya-Sonia-Masha-Spike_1NC-1 Then comes the day the glamorous, globetrotting, five-times married Masha shows up unannounced, 20something actor/boy-toy Spike (Connor McRaith) in tow and a piece of bad news in store for her unwitting siblings.

With a lover at least twenty years her junior (who’s more than willing to strip down to his skintight boxer briefs at a moment’s notice, the better to show off bulging biceps, rippling pecs, and a six-pack that just won’t quit), it’s no wonder that Masha isn’t all that thrilled when spunky young Spike introduces her to fresh-faced next-door neighbor Nina (Emily Goss), a would-be actress who’s more than thrilled to be heading off with the titular foursome to a Disney-themed costume party, even if it means dressing as Goofy to her favorite actress’s Snow White.

Vanya-Sonia-Masha-Spike_3NC-1 Playwright Durang may have eschewed his Beyond Therapy/Baby With the Bathwater théâtre de l’absurd roots for more “traditional” fare in his biggest Broadway hit to date, but fans can rest assured. Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike is one of the funniest, most satisfying comedies you’re likely to see all year, and filled with characters who are alternately quirky and charming and irritating and hilarious and yet somehow utterly real.

Vanya-Sonia-Masha-Spike_5NC The latter is especially true at ICT, where director Mary Jo DuPrey ensures that no matter how wacky the situations or dialog may be, Durang’s creations remain authentic human beings taking on life’s challenges large and small … and even occasionally reaping its rewards.

L.A. theater treasure Stevens outdoes herself in a superstar turn as movie goddess Masha, a ravishing red-headed stunner who could give Rita or Rhonda a run for their money while earning as many laughs as Lucy in the bargain.

A fabulous Parsons makes for so deliciously drab a Sonia in early scenes that her transformation into a glamorous Snow White’s Evil Queen “as played by Maggie Smith in California Suite” is all the more stunning.

A Noise Within’s Rockwell vanishes inside Vanya’s grumpy, fussy, sexually-repressed skin, his Act Two monolog dazzling us, not with theatrical fireworks, but with a character’s heartfelt pain.

Vanya-Sonia-Masha-Spike_2NC-1 Goss (who played a differently tweaked Nina in The Theatre @ Boston Court’s Stupid Fucking Bird a couple years back) is radiant perfection as Durang’s version of the Chekhov ingénue, and Zucker steals every scene she’s in as a voodoo-licious Cassandra (who’s Latina rather than Jamaican this time round).

Last but not least, hot, handsome, humungously talented McRaith (less than a month out of college in his professional stage debut) plays Spike with so much sweetness and sincerity (and an irresistible grin), who could possibly give a whit that Masha’s young lover is more than a tad insensitive and self-serving?

Scenic designer Maureen Weiss and resident property designers Patty, Gordon, and Christopher Briles combine talents to evoke the lived-in charm of the Vanya and Sonya’s Pennsylvania country home, lighting designer John A. Garofalo bathing it in a warm summer glow.

Vanya-Sonia-Masha-Spike_4NC-1 Resident costume designer Kim DeShazo scores high marks for her character-apt garb (Stevens’ just-right-for-a-redhead gowns are particularly stunning) and for some delightfully Disneyesque wear. Sound designer Jeff Polunas and resident hair and wig designer Anthony Gagliardi complete the design package, the former with his just-right music and effects, the latter with his just-right dos.

Molly McGraw is production stage manager. Maddie Felgentreff is assistant stage manager. Tom Ash is assistant scenic designer. Casting is by Michael Donovan, CSA. Richie Ferris is casting assistant.

Yet another feather in the cap of International City Theatre artistic director caryn desai, Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike is mid-sized L.A. theater at its best. I loved every rib-tickling second of it.

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International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach.

–Steven Stanley
June 10, 2106


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